Letter to the editor of the Nanaimo Daily News

This letter was written by students (myself included) at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism in Vancouver, in response to the publication of a racist letter in a Postmedia outlet, the Nanaimo Daily News.

Dear Sir,

As students at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, we are embarrassed for you at what you consider fit for print.

The letter from Don Olsen entitled “Educate First Nations to be modern citizens,” published March 27, is one of the most racist, ignorant things we have read in any context, much less in a well-read newspaper. And it is only the most recent example of Olsen’s racism in your publication.

Olsen can’t even get his facts straight, suggesting that Aboriginal people contributed nothing to modern society. Among contributions by North American Indians are potatoes, corn, and important elements of the U.S. Constitution, namely the concept of personal freedom. He points out, correctly, that they never developed the wheel, which makes it all the more impressive that their trade networks spanned the entire continent.

As young journalists in Canada’s only Reporting in Indigenous Communities class, some of us have been trying to learn to tell their stories in a way that respects their history and culture. Others among us have been learning about the human rights violations that occurred within our country in living memory. One thing we have learned is that the bigoted misconceptions in Olsen’s letters have real consequences for these people and communities.

We find it incredibly disheartening that any newspaper would consider this to be an acceptable way to draw readers. It is incomprehensible to us that you would provide a venue for material that could just as easily be coming from the headmaster of a 19th century residential school.

There is no excuse for the Nanaimo Daily News to have repeatedly given Olsen a soapbox from which to hurl his racism to a wider audience.


Jimmy Thomson

Katelyn Verstraten

Rachel Bergen

Stephanie Kelly

Britney Dennison

Zoe Tennant

Hayley Dunning

Julia Kalinina (former student)

Sachi Wickramasinghe

Carlos Tello

Garrett Hinchey

Matthew Parsons

Blake Murphy

Meghan Mast

Sebastian Salamanca

Tiffany Kwong

Matt Meuse

Reyhana Heatherington

Emma Smith

Kirsty Matthews

14 thoughts on “Letter to the editor of the Nanaimo Daily News

  1. I am heartened by the future of journalism with bright and perceptive students like the signatories of this excellent letter. May you infiltrate the nation’s newspapers and media outlets successfully and soon. & thumbs down to the Nanaimo Free Press. Show some editorial backbone!

  2. You are wonderful and this is a great letter. I agree with the previous comment, you will be good for our country in journalism or anything else you do because you have learned to see more clearly than most. Now I think it’s time for some teach-ins in Nanaimo eh?

  3. BIG sigh of relief… I was feeling such despondent frustration with media and now have some HOPE. Keep learning. You have such an important role in society.. deciding what is valid and how it is shared… you influence the ideology of Canada and represent all Candians.

  4. Well spoken my fellow Canadians…i too question the editor’s motives for allowing Don Olsen to spread his hate message…it is an embarrassment to the print media…i’m proud to read your letter to the editor. Being a hard working tax paying First Nations father of 3 children, i am encouraged they will live in a society amoung Canadians as yourselves. This beautiful country was built by all it’s citizens…all our predecessor’s struggles have brought us to this point in Canadian history. It is now up to us to move our society forward as they intended…proud strong and free…God Bless the UBC Graduate students of Journalism on this Easter weekend.

    DG…Prince Rupert, BC

  5. It would be interesting to drop Olsen off on the far side of Great Bear Lake about now and leave him for two or three weeks…see if he’s alive when they come back to haul his sorry ass out. I look out my window at Boat Harbour, Nova Scotia and I see a fog of chemicals seeping across the water where Mi’kmaq and Scottish settlers once fished, gathered oysters, mayflowers and grasses, cut logs and built boats. Now the estuary is a dead zone with air, ground and sea water pollution contributing to the highest rates of respiratory illness and cancers in the country. Western civilization prizes its jobs and artificial economy over life itself, and dares to tell native peoples – who lived here for 12,000 years in harmony with the land and sea – they “accomplished” nothing.

  6. Wonderful display of sincere replies by the future generation of Leaders suggesting what they don’t want in their country. Good for you all to take this stand.

  7. I am moved by your commitment as young journalists to publicly name racism when you see it occurring. The written word has historically been harsh and unfair to our aboriginal peoples. Thanks to all of you for taking this stand which represents the thinking and emotions of most Canadians. And isn’t the role of good journalism to capture the voices of a country’s people. Thanks you.

  8. You guys are a mote of light on a very dark day in this industry, at least on the Island. Don’t ever lose this kind of decency after you enter the biz, which has a way of chipping away at it. I’m one of the few mainstream journalists of aboriginal descent in the province, and know of where I speak. Re-read Olsen’s letter and take out the words aboriginal and First Nations, and instead insert Asian, Black, Gay, woman, or handicapped. It wouldn’t be stood tolerated for a second. If there is a silver lining in this, it is that the protest over this letter is equally vehement between aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike. We have come a long way because 30 years ago such a letter would have been given a pass and you wouldn’t have heard a peep. The context around this letter has been lost in the furor. Namely, there has been a shift over the past year in how the paper in question – and some of its sister papers – cover aboriginal issues. Something changed although I can’t put my finger on where it originated and why.

  9. Thank you so much for this. The responses to media have been quite disheartening and you help shine a light!

  10. John Ralston Saul’s “A Fair Country” is a great read on exactly this topic. It speaks of a variety concepts that we ascribe to modern Canadian society, which actually are rooted in various indigenous cultures across Canada, such as the recognition of common law partnerships and the concept legal aid.

    Self-education is so easy when you live in a society with high literacy rates. But first must come questions. If we could replace every assumption with a question, we’d be much more informed for it!

  11. I am a First Nations woman. Age is no excuse for one’s negative actions toward First Nation people. I know there are thousands of native men and women who have accomplished much in their short lives: Doctors, Lawyers, political figures, etc. Myself, I have worked hard all my life (in the professional administrative field) and recently retired. I worked in various cities throughout Canada, and in Germany (four years). During my working years my husband (non-native) and I raised two children, I am proud of them and they now work in their chosen careers. They are also members of my First Nation community. I guess Mr. Olsen’s near-sightedness only saw the “down and out” first nation people in the Nanaimo area. Unfortunately these folks come from various ethnic groups and somehow have fallen along the “wayside.” Obviously this man would not even consider a public apology. I can only feel sorry for him.

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